January 6, 2009

Wander the winding streets of Shaughnessy and you’ll be met with a pretty persistent contradiction. There’s still a thrilling number of porte-cocheres to draw your carriage under, and the mock-Tudor mansions still hunker on sprawling lots bespeaking the privilege of the CPR execs the area was originally set aside for. But Shaughnessy’s century-old homes are moss-bedraggled, too; some have rotting drapes and overgrown gardens that simultaneously murmur “I don’t believe we’ve met” and “Buddy, can you spare a dime?” When the Great Depression hit Vancouver, the neighbourhood became known as Mortgage Heights. Property taxes were held at pre-Depression rates; many residents were forced to convert their homes into rooming houses. (In 1981, a development plan aimed at preserving the area put a brake on subdivision and density.) There are still tenants among the manors—a friend went to visit such a lodger recently and was accosted by the homeowner, who was giving a party and seemed torn between a sense of invasion and humiliation at the fact of his divided home. Given the current climate, similar awkwardness could soon migrate into the inflated ’hoods of Point Grey and Altamont.

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